In the mid-1990s, Porsche had to make a far-reaching decision to ensure the sports car manufacturer’s long-term financial success: to offer a third model. An analysis commissioned by then-sales manager Hans Riedel’s department had shown that the legendary 911 and the new mid-engine Boxster model alone would not lead the manufacturer to a secure future. The solution was to design and launch a sporty SUV: the Cayenne.
“We realized that only sports cars reached their market limits. Sales have clearly proven this through market research. In the long run, Porsche would once again be on a downward trajectory.”remembers Anton Hunger, communications manager for former CEO Wendelin Wiedeking.
It should be avoided. After all, Porsche had only just leaned into the abyss: for 1992, a loss of 240 million German marks was to be reported. Wendelin Wiedeking, who had first been spokesman for the Porsche Management Board since September 1992 and then its president from August 1993, reacted quickly: he optimized production, eliminated entire hierarchical levels, and introduced the Boxster. The company managed to reverse the trend and aimed for further growth beyond the classic sports car segment.
Partner: Mercedes was followed by VW
Five alternative vehicle concepts were considered for the “third Porsche”, but in the end only a luxury van and a high-end sports SUV were seriously considered. The United States, Porsche’s largest market at the time, vetoed the van idea. “At that time in America, vans were especially popular with low-income families. But what worked well even then in all income classes were large off-road vehicles.”, explains Anton Hunger. To develop such a new model, Porsche was looking for a partner – and first found one in the neighborhood: Mercedes-Benz was to launch the M-Class on the market in 1997 and was not opposed to Porsche involving and setting its own accents.
“At this stage, we saw the Porsche SUV as a high-performance version of the Mercedes. With its own exterior skin, lots of M-Class tech, but with our engines and chassis components.”, explains Klaus-Gerhard Wolpert, who was the first production manager for Cayenne from 1998 to 2010. The Porsche / Mercedes collaboration, agreed in the summer of 1996, progressed well, but failed at the end of the same year various ideas about the economic relationship between the two companies. A new partner was needed, which was found in Wolfsburg: Although Volkswagen and Porsche were not yet part of the same group at the time, Ferdinand Piëch, then CEO of VW, grandson of the company’s founder Ferdinand Porsche, recognized the potential for collaboration. “Porsche presented the concept to VW, and Ferdinand Piëch decided: we could use such a car. »remembers Wolpert.
In June 1997, the decision was made to design the Cayenne and Touareg together on the Porsche platform as part of the project called Internal “Colorado”. A little less than a year later, this decision was announced. To begin with, only the name Cayenne remained secret. Porsche was responsible for the development, where VW took over the production of the new SUV. There were visible identical parts such as the doors and the interior was also similar. But the partners differed when it came to other important components: First, no Porsche engine was used in the VW sister model and vice versa. Chassis tuning was also arranged separately.
Development goals: new standards on and off the road
A crucial question was: how do you design a car that credibly embodies Porsche’s well-known sportiness on the road and at the same time can keep up with the world’s best off-road vehicles over hills and valleys? Cayenne should set standards both on and off paved roads. “For us, it was clear: If we bring an off-road vehicle, it must also be convincing terrain. », said Anton Hunger. Or as Felix Brautigam, head of marketing communications at Porsche at the time, put it: “Cayenne is synonymous with a sporty driving experience. He does not care about the basement for that. »
To give his engineers an idea of the requirements for developing an SUV, series director Klaus-Gerhard Wolpert took an unusual step: “I have asked all my department heads to hand over their Porsche company cars. Instead, we bought various SUVs, for example the BMW X5, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Mercedes M-Class. Colleagues were supposed to run these models daily, and we changed them every four weeks. » At first, Wolpert’s team complained about the orderly abandonment of their beloved 911, but the daily confrontation with issues that had hitherto received little attention at Porsche, such as storage space, the height of the loading frame and the collapsible rear seats, and the angle of attack allowed the team to become aware of the strengths and weaknesses of competitors. “It was one of the keys to success.”is now convinced of Wolpert.
World premiere 2002 in Paris “of historical significance”
In September 2002, a full four years after the decision in favor of the Cayenne was announced, Porsche celebrated its first five-seater world premiere at the Paris Motor Show. “Porsche is actually facing what is perhaps the biggest challenge. I have no doubt that this day will have historical significance for the company.”, Wendelin Wiedeking had stated during the evening in the courtyard of the hotel in Evreux. With the Cayenne, the sports car manufacturer reached new customers and new markets, although there were strong reservations among some fans of the brand.
“Cayenne was quickly accepted internally. But the Porsche clubs were less enthusiastic. Sometimes there was a strong headwind.”, remembers former spokesman Anton Hunger. But the numbers showed that Porsche was right. Wiedeking and the entire management team erred in one thing: the Porsche Cayenne was not only delivered to customers 25,000 times a year, as originally planned. Even the first generation, internally known as the E1, sold 276,652 units in eight model years, or nearly 35,000 units a year. Third generation (E3) now rolls off the assembly line and the millionth Cayenne already belongs to the past. Recently, over 80,000 units were delivered in 2021.
For Porsche, the Cayenne created the financial basis for lasting success without sacrificing the sporting value of the sports car brand: ” With the Cayenne, it succeeded for the first time in transferring the Porsche legend to a whole new market segment. Our sports car in the SUV segment has proven to be a bestseller and growth engine over the last two decades. In addition, Cayenne opened the doors to many new markets for Porsche and made a significant contribution to the internationalization of our sales network. And for a significant expansion of our customer base. », said Oliver Blume, CEO of Porsche AG, on the occasion of the world premiere of the third generation in 2017 on the roof of the Porsche Museum. »